Presidential Address to the Friend's Historical Society (London), 1923.

Edward Grubb

(Part Two)

[Reprinted from the "Friends' Quarterly Examiner," January, 1924. Leominster: The Orphans' Printing Press, Ltd., Broad Street.]

This Document is on The Quaker itings Home Page.

I believe that one of the chief agencies in working the change we are considering was the preaching, at a rather later, period, of Stephen Grellet. But as this belongs distinctly to the nineteenth century, it may be well to defer its consideration till we have picked up or or two more threads from the later years of the eighteenth.

The great agitation against the Slave Trade, which went on from 1787 to 1807 when it was abolished by law, brought many Friends into contact with the leaders of that movement. These were for the most part Evangelical Churchmen, and the historian Green is certainly right in attributing the anti-Slavery movement, as well as that for the reform of prisons to the Evangelical revival, which had aroused in the minds of men a new sense of the worth of every human soul "for which Christ died." This appeal came home with special force to those who had been taught to believe that in all men's souls there shone a Light from God, and it has already been mentioned that Clarkson and Wilberforce found in the Friends their most ardent supporters. Friends took part in the agitation not without misgivings and much cautionary advice from the older members, who feared party politics and association with persons of other religious bodies; the result was a broadening of their outlook, a new realisation of the true and earnest Christianity of men and women of other creeds, and in particular a new understanding of the Evangelical and missionary aspects of the Christian life. There is not, so far as I can discover, much positive evidence, for few Friends appear to have realised at the time that any change was going on; but I should judge that tow of the principle channels through with the Evangelical movement penetrated the rather prickly hedge that the Society had planted round itself were the poems of Cowper and the anti-Slavery agitation. (9)

A quite different influence, and one that acted in a totally different way, may perhaps be found in the French Revolution. Friends were agitated no so much by its political terrors - for the lived in a world almost entirely shut off from interest in world politics - as by fears of its effect on religion. They heard with horror of Thomas Paine, as associated "The Rights of Man" with "The age of Reason." What they feared was a total dissolution of the bases of Christian belief, and it is, I believe, mainly to this cause that we must trace their rather terrified opposition to, and crushing of, the mild attempts at "freedom of thought" made by Abraham Shackleton and Hannah Barnard. The only barrier against an overwhelming flood of atheism and ungodliness seemed to be the maintenance, at whatever cost, of the old standards of thought and conduct; the only refuge against licence to be the absolute authority of the Bible. (10)

Abraham Shackleton, of Ballitore, a leading Friend in his district, and a man of independent mind, objected openly to the severe discipline to which the members were then subjected, to the Advices given to ministers, and to the infallible authority attributed to the Scriptures, particularly the supposed commands to extirpate the Canaanites. William Savery had a long interview with him in 1798 and found him holding"opinions of a singular nature. He professes to think there is little if any need of books of any kind on religious subjects, that they only darken the mind and keep it from turning itself to God, the fountain of all light and life. Of all books of a religious kind he especially dislikes Friends' journals, and has but a slight opinion of ministry and discipline, and all secondary helps in general, but is for having all people turned to the Divine Light in themselves alone. He thinks the Evangelists were poor historians, that Paul brought much of his Epistles from the feet of Gamaliel and many parts of them are therefore rabbinical stuff...for my part I could not see as he did nor unite with him in his erroneous expressions and opinions" (Journal of W. Savery, p. 270.)

In the end he gave up attending meetings and was disowned, as were also a large number of his sympathisers, including many "of the most intelligent and progressive members (R. M. Jones, p. 298), but they never formed a separate body. (11)

Hannah Barnard, a minister of Hudson Monthly Meeting, New York, traveled acceptably in the ministry in England, Scotland, and Ireland during the years 1798-1800. In the latter year a full and appreciative certificate was given her by the Irish Yearly Meeting (from which, we must remember, most of the "advanced" members had then been weeded out); but when, a few weeks later, she appeared at the meeting of ministers and elders at London Yearly Meeting, and asked for a minute of liberation to visit Germany, David Sands objected to her teaching as unsound. William Savery was not present, having returned to America in the autumn of 1798. An enquiry was held, by various committees consisting of men Friends only, and she was subjected to severe examination, being finally refused her minute and asked to return home after which her own Monthly Meeting disowned her. Her chief offense was similar to that of Abraham Shackleton, in denying the accounts of the Jewish wars of extermination. Parts of the New testament, including the miraculous conception and miracles of Christ, she did not deny but could not affirm since "they had not been revealed to her mind." (12)

These proceedings show clearly that a change passed over London Yearly Meeting during the closing years of the eighteenth century. Religious teaching based on the Inward Light in the souls of men, which a few years before would have passed as sound Quakerism and genuine Christianity, was now called in question, and tested in the light of the doctrine and infallible authority of the Bible. The new spiritual life which had been awakened by the devoted labours of William Savery and others had begun to clothe itself in new forms derived from the prevalent Evangelicalism of the day - forms which, however, were in reality older than Quakerism, being more akin to the beliefs of Bunyan and Baxter, and the Reformation generally, than to those of George Fox and Isaac Penington. It must, however, be remembered that the careful literary and historical study of the Scripture documents had not then begun and those who could not accept their plenary inspiration had not better rounds to offer than their own individual impressions of truth. To many there seemed no alternative between a trust in inward impressions which might be delusive and a blind reliance on the outward letter; and in the general fear of "Deism" the latter course was chosen by the majority.

The Hannah Barnard controversy produced a number of works written by Friends to show that the Society had never held the Unitarian position, and these were chiefly of a strongly Evangelical character. Chief among them is a pamphlet by Henry Tuke, (E) written in 1801, and entitled "The Faith of the People Called Quaker in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ," consisting mostly of extracts from the writings of early and later Friends to show that they accepted Evangelical doctrines. He also wrote a larger work in 1805, "The Principles of Religion as professed by the Society of Friends," which had an enormous circulation in the society, and which bases all Christian doctrine on the Divine authority of the Scriptures. Another learned work produced in the same year by John Bevans, junr., was "A Defense of the Christian Doctrines of the Society of Friends against the charge of Socinianism." Both these works represent correctness of doctrine as vital to Christianity and defend the view that the Jewish wars of extermination were undertaken (under a different "dispensation") by the direct command of God. They are important landmarks showing the direction in which the Society was moving.

The new Evangelical spirit among Friends on both sides of the Atlantic received powerful reinforcement from the labours of Stephen Grellet and William Forster. The conversion of the young French nobleman, Etienne de Grellet, from Voltairean infidelity to a fervent belief in Evangelical Christian, and an ardent missionary life, is one of the most remarkable chapters in religious history. What now specially concerns us is that human instrumentality seems to have had little or nothing to do with it. He was then, in 1795, residing on Long Island. With a French-speaking family, and could at that time scarcely speak or understand a word of English. At one of the first Friends' meetings he attended he was impressed (without understanding it) by the ministry of two English women Friends, Deborah Darby and Rebecca Young (afterwards Rebecca Byrd), and these Friends a little later helped him in private conversation. (13) But I cannot think that these ministers had much to do with shaping the form of his religious views. He seems to have attached himself to Friends because they were the most spiritually-minded Christians withing his reach, because he had read (with the help of a dictionary) Penn's No Cross, No Crown, and because he valued the silence of their meetings for communion with the God who had met him and opened his eyes. He says he had at first very little intercourse with Friends. The French mind is not naturally mystical, and the forms of Evangelical Christianity expressed better than any other the truths he had discovered. The passages in this Journal given by Benjamin Seebohm in the well-known Memoirs, in which he expresses his deepest convictions, are all cast in a strongly Evangelical mould, and I have discovered no mention of belief in a universal Light. The following passage, written at the age of 24 when he had just been recorded as a Minister in the Society, is typical of many more:

"My mind dwelt much on the nature of the hope of redemption through Jesus Christ. I felt the efficacy of that grace by which we are saved, through faith in Christ and His atoning blood, shed for us on Calvary's mount; and the excellency of the blessed gifts, which, in consequence of this the meritorious sacrifice of Himself for sinful man, are offered to the believer in His name, especially that of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It was my soul's chief concern to draw the attention of the people to this saving work and experimental faith, and I felt that the best testimony I could bear to the efficacy of the Redeemer's love was to evince by my life what He had actually done for me." (Memoirs, third edition, Vol. I., pp. 39, 40.)

Stephen Grellet paid four missionary visits to Europe, beginning respectively in 1807, 1811, 1818, and 1831, being absent from home on each occasion from one two four years. He had much work among Roman Catholics, who were often remarkably open to receive his message, and interviewed many of the crowned heads and leading Statesmen of the European countries, including the Pope. He was given free access to the Inquisition and the secret Library at Rome, where (he says) he found no Quaker books. During his second visit he got his Friends in London to gather a company of Jews at Devonshire House, and one of thieves and prostitutes at St. Martin's Lane. In company with Mary Dudley he also had a meeting with "people of high rank" in the West End of London, where (he says) he "did not find the same degree of brokenness and contrition of spirit that I have done among the poor." It was he who communicated to Elizabeth Fry the awful state of Newgate prison, and got her started on her work of prison reform. I mention these things to show the breadth of his sympathies and the practical missionary work to which his Evangelical religion led him. He certainly commended it by his own life. There can, I think, be no doubt that his was one of the chief influences that turned the minds of Friends in the Evangelical direction.

Over his maturer years a dark cloud was spread by the movement towards freedom of thought and practice in America which is associated with the name of Elias Hicks. Those who were affected with this spirit he acknowledges that he was almost unable to reach. I fear he quite failed to understand it - to him it was nothing but "sour leaven," "thick darkness," "infidelity." He faithfully preached "Christ crucified" as he understood the matter, but not in a way that could "speak to their condition." He seems to have had little or no knowledge of religious history or to have read much except the Bible. He had little sense of the "varieties of religious experience," and could not imagine that anyone could find the truth of God except along the path by which he himself had been led. In the deepest distress of soul he went all through the separation in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting in 1828. (F)

Another minister who exerted a powerful influence in the Evangelical direction was William Forster. He was an intimate friend of Isaac Crewdson and Joseph John Gurney, and his thoughts from very early years were of a wholly Evangelical cast. At the turn of the century he was 16 years old and he wrote even then with the seriousness of a man of fifty. We do not learn from his Memoir what influences moulded his religious thought; apparently he was an almost unconscious product of the Evangelicalism that was then the dominant force in religion. He was deeply afflicted by the evils of slavery, and died in Tennessee during a second visit to America made on behalf of slaves. During the Irish famine of 1846 he laboured hard for the organisation of relief. His first visit to America was during the twenties, and he was as much distress as Stephen Grellet with the prevalence among Friends of a spirit that seemed to him infidelity. "Almost in every place," he writes, "I have to make war against a formal and superstitious religion, to seek to convince the people that they have need of a Saviour, and to preach the Lord Jesus Christ as the only Saviour for poor lost fallen man." (Memoirs, Vol. I., p. 305.)

He notes that his interest in the Bible Society and the circulation of the Scriptures was regarded by many Friends in American "with a jealous eye," and this impressed on him the need for better religious education among Friends. He was so much impressed by the spirit among them that he concluded a separation could hardly be avoided: that Friends would have to declare themselves on one side or the other - "either attached to the Society on its ancient Christian principles, or one with that revolutionising and disorganising spirit which would lay waste the discipline and introduce and establish the anti-Christian notions of Socinianism and a sort of spiritualised Deism" (Memoirs, p. 381.) At the same time he recognises that some might consider his own attitude of mind to be not exactly that of the old-time Quaker: "I am," he naively writes to J. J. Gurney, "much more of an old-fashioned Quaker than may take me to be." (Memoirs, Vol. II., p. 86.) The only really distinctive characteristic of the "old-fashioned Quakers" that I have been able to discover in his Memoir is his implicit belief in Divine Guidance; but that will be better considered when we come to compare the newer with the older Quakerism.

The great separation of 1828-1829 I propose to pass over, referring those interested in its detail to Rufus Jones's Later Periods of Quakerism and my own small book on Separations. It main effect, from the point of view we are taking, was to intensify very greatly the Evangelical tendencies of the "orthodox" Friends, both in Britain and America. Such would seem to be the inevitable result of a separation: each party is rendered more extreme by being deprived of the moderating influence of the other. From the accounts that reached this country, most English Friends were led to regard it as entirely due to an evil spirit of disbelief in the essentials of Christian faith on the part of Elias Hicks and his friends. This drove many to seek for safety in a clearer definition of those essentials, and in particular of the inspiration and infallible authority of Scripture; it even led some to question whether the ancient principle of the Inward Light was a safe foundation on which to build. There were not wanting those who pointed the moral of the Hicksite secession thus: "See what comes of trusting to the Inward Light!"

After 1830 the Evangelical movement among Friends in England made rapid progress, largely as a reaction against Hicksism, and it culminate in the publication, early in 1835, of the small book called The Beacon, by Isaac Crewdson, of Manchester. Crewdson selects passages from Hicks's published sermons, and contrasts them with texts of Scripture headed with such words as "What saith the Holy Spirit?" The Scriptures are definitely the final and only authority in religion; the principle of the Inward Light is stigmatised as a "delusive notion," and its universality is explicitly denied. The book produced many answers, and it is not surprising that many Friend believe the author to be simply using Elias Hicks as a convenient stalking-horse behind which to shoot at the Society of Friends itself. In these years it seemed that a separation in London Yearly Meeting could hardly be avoided. In 1835 there was the recent publication of Crewdson's book, and the appointment of a committee to help in settling the trouble to which it had given rise at Manchester. In 1836 there was the report of this Committee, of which J. J. Gurney was the leading spirit, and which left the situation more embittered than it was before - professing general agreement with Crewdson's views while usurping the power to silence him as a minister. There was also a request form Westmoreland Quarterly Meeting for a definition of the place of Holy Scripture as the rule of faith and practice, which produces the passage in the Epistle of that year to which I have already referred. In 1837 the Yearly Meeting of Ministers and Elders was almost equally divided on the application of J .J. Gurney for a minute of liberation to visit America, and after many hours of discussion liberating minute was with difficulty framed.

The most conspicuous defenders of Crewdson's views were Luke Howard, a man of some scientific distinction and editor the The Yorkshireman, and Elisha Bates, of Ohio. both these men shortly afterwards left the Society. Among the chief opponent were my grandmother, Sarah (Lynes) Grubb, who in the Yearly Meeting of 1836 entered the men's meeting under religion concern, and delivered a lengthy tirade against the "Babel-builders" in a tone of prophetic infallibility which drew upon her some animadversion from the Elders, and George and Ann Jones (the latter formerly Ann Burgess) who, like Thomas Shillitoe, had been recently in America and had taken a strong line against the "separatists" there. Thomas Shillitoe himself was ill, and died shortly after that Yearly Meeting was held. There is no doubt that his sympathies were with the Conservatives - as also were those of Daniel Wheeler, who was then absent, I believe in the South Seas. Joseph J. Gurney professed to hold a mediating position, and drew on himself the wrath of both parties, but undoubtedly his sympathies were with the innovators, as were those of William and Josiah Forster. During and after his American visit, which lasted from 1837 to 1840, J.J. Gurney was the most distinguished exponent of the Evangelical view, as John Wilbur, of New England, became the Conservative. The unscrupulous persecution which the latter endured form the dominant Evangelical party in New England Yearly Meeting, and his expulsion from the Society, greatly embittered the relation of the two sections, produced a melancholy crop of separations among orthodox Friends in the States and Canada, led to the isolation form any years of Philadelphia (orthodox) Yearly Meeting, and lost us the little body of Conservative Friends whom we connect with Frithcley in Derbeyshire.

It is by no means easy to set down in clear terms exactly what it was that so acutely divided the two sections, and caused them at times to denounce one another in terms of such violence. It was not a question of what is generally called Theology, for both parties held without question what were regarded as the essential doctrines of Christianity, and had been equally determined opponents of the Hicksites because of their supposes deistical tendencies. Both held the total depravity of man through the Fall and the consequent corruption of his reasoning powers. Both regarded belief in the Divinity of Jesus Christ and in his "propitiatory sacrifice" as essential for salvation from eternal ruin and hell. They were united in looking upon the Scriptures as containing an infallible revelation from God, and equally dreaded any exercises of man's unregenerate reason for their study and elucidation. And both parties held, though with some doubt on the part of Crewdson himself and others who left the Society with him, to the necessity of look for the special and immediate guidance of the Holy Spirit in the work of the ministry. What cause was there, then, for the fierce antagonism, that divided them - the echoes of which I can myself recall during my earliest attendance of our Yearly Meeting, in the eighties of the last century, at times when the doings of the Home Mission Committee were under discussion.

It was, I believe, due to an instinctive apprehension on the part of the more thoughtful Conservative Friends, which they were never able to put into language that would reach the understanding of the Evangelical section, that the latter were undermining the mystical basis on which the Society of Friends had been gathered and built up - the supremacy of the Light of God in the souls of men, and the paramount need of His inward work of cleansing and regeneration. Few of them had devoted clear thought to the subject; such indeed was their fear of the "carnal reason" that they would have thought it wrong to do so; they could only express themselves in cloudy imagery drawn mostly from the prophets and the Apocalypse. Consequently their warning were put down to prejudice and unworthy suspicion, were resented as unjust, and largely disregarded. The Evangelical message was at least intelligible; The Mystical Gospel, though deeper and more penetrating, was expressed in a language few could understand, and those who preached it came to be thought of as troublesome "cranks." The following passage, from my grandmother's Letters, is perhaps as clear as anything, I must apolgise for its length, but nothing short will serve the purpose.

"For a number of years [the date is 1834] it has been my lot to warn Friends, and particularly in the Yearly Meeting in London, against a sprit of subtlety that would draw us from attention to the inward manifestations of our blessed Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ; for I have long seen that some of the most prominent and influential characters among us never have been altogether of the Lord's own forming, either as Friends of as minsters of Christ; and how many, very many, have embraced something short of Him who remains to be the fulness and are settling on the surface of things building on the sand; highly extolling in words the `One Offering,' which indeed is to be appreciate with feeling of adoration and heartfelt gratitude; but these know not of what they speak, while they preach up a literal faith in Christ crucified, and endeavour to bring people form a pure dependence on the leading and unfoldings of the Spirit of Christ, and on the inward and heart-felt power and coming of Christ within, the hope of glory. The absence of this quickening Spirit is in my apprehension mournfully and oppressively felt, while `Mystery Babylon' mimics it in various way - in language, in orthodox sermons, in dissimulation of love, in solemn silence, not the silence of the Lord's own power. We have a zeal among us which draws from the influence and motions of the inward anoint into creaturely activity; and so we are blind, in many instance, as to mistake Babylon's stream, where go the `gallant ships and the galleys with 'oars for the place of broad rivers and streams' where none of these are found. Our predecessors suffered much in avowing the leadings of the Spirit of truth, which brought them away from all will-worship; shall we with impunity trample upon the testimonies of the everlasting Gospel, which they embraced at the risk of the loss of property, personal liberty, and life itself?" - Letters of Sarah Grubb, pp. 17,18.

There was another reason why the Conservative protest against Evangelical Quakerism passes do largely unheeded. It mixed things up, an attributed almost as much importance to practiced handed down by tradition as to belief in inward revelation. It tacitly assumed that the Spirit of God could only express itself in an outward conformity with all "the traditions of the Elders," that it could not lead into new paths, Hence it drew to itself the dry traditionalists who lived only in the past and abhorred the ideas of progress. A large part of its opposition to meetings for the study of the Bible and to organised mission word abroad and at home was neither more nor less than pure Conservatism - the desire that as things had been so they should remain.

But perhaps at this point I may so far obtrude my own convictions as to say that in my judgment the more thoughtful Conservatives were right in believing that to a large extent the Evangelical innovators were off the real foundation of the Quaker faith. It appears to me that Joseph J. Gurney, who more than any other man shaped the Quakerism of the middle and later years of the nineteenth century, and whose leadership was recognised by the great body of Friends in these islands and in America, never really understood what the early Friends had discovered, or appreciated in the least the meaning of inward revelation. He did really, though quite unconsciously, change the basis of authority from inward to outward, and recalled the Society from the Quakerism of Fox and his friends to the position of their Puritan opponents. For him and those who thought like him,, like his predecessor Henry Tuke and his friend William Forster, the final truth was to be found in the Bible only - the deposit of "the faith once for all delivered to the saints." The consequences of this, which I believe to have been a real "departure from the foundation," we see in the Pastoral developments of American Quakerism to-day.

What kept Gurney and his supporters to the Society, and what made them in many respects real Friends, was their retention of belief in what was called the "perceptible" guidance of the Spirit, in silent worship as the only field in which this guidance for vocal ministry could have free play, and in the non-necessity of outward sacramental observances. In these matters the leader of the Evangelical section were just as much true Friends as were their opponents. But Gurney seems never to have recognised the difficulty of detaching these "peculiarities" from the inward and spiritual foundation on which they rested, and basing them simply on a private interpretation of certain Scripture texts; nor the offensiveness of claiming, as he did, that Quakerism with its peculiar practices is nothing but pure New Testament Christianity, when the vast majority of other Evangelical Christians, equally devoted to the New Testament, draw no such inferences from it. Unless our form of religion rests on a deeper basis than a literal interpretation of certain texts, it will with difficulty propagate or even maintain itself; as, again, the American experience testifies.

The struggles though which the Society of Friends has passed, during the last century and a half, are truly tragic in their character. The appropriateness of the adjective will be appreciated if we take to word "tragedy" to have the meaning assigned it by a master of thought, Professor A.C. Bradley, in his lectures on Shakespearean Tragedy. Tragedy, he says, in is essence the fact or appearance "of a world travailing for perfection, but bringing to birth, together with glorious good, an evil which it is able to overcome only by self-torture and self-waste." "There is no tragedy in the expulsion of evil; the tragedy is this involves the waste of good." (Op. cit. pp. 39, 37.) The conflicts in the Society of Friends, which culminated, first in the Hicksite separation, and then in the dominance of Evangelicalism, were both struggles for liberty - for freedom of thought and practice from the dead hand of repression and tradition. "The first attempt produced a secession which separated a large part of the Society in America for generation from historical and evangelical Christianity (using the word, for once, in its larger and better meaning), and almost destroyed it united witness to the world. The second, in reaction against this, led away the great body of the Society, both in England and America, from the central experience that had gathered the `Children of the Light' and given them a message for humanity." (Separations, p. 76.) Some evil was expelled, but how great a sacrifice and waste of good! Those who, like my grandmother, Thomas Shillitoe, and John Wilbur, clearly saw the large measure of failure that would attend both these efforts, tried to cope with them by summoning to their aid the forces of blind conservatism and reaction, and the support of those who sought to stifle liberty with the pressure of formalism and tradition.

The chief lesson of this study of one of these struggles, so far as it is in the direction of the truth, would seem to be that we should in our day keep an open eye for the "new duties" to which the "new occasions" call us; that, in seeking to enter the fields that are opening before us, and to bring to a distracted world a gospel of freedom and peace and reconciliation, we should learn from the successes and failures of our predecessors both why the succeeded and why they failed; and that above all we should drink deeply for ourselves from the perennial fountain form which their spiritual needs were supplied.

The Evangelical Movement and its Impact on the Society of Friend, Footnotes.